It really says a lot about a team when you have to look at the draft…that is still over 4 months away and a schedule that has yet to be finalized for a season that doesn’t start until September. That however is what you get when your team is not only out of the playoff picture and has been for some time, but holds the first pick in the draft…if the season ended today.
Yesterday we looked at the QB class in this years draft and today I wanted to take a look at the 2011 schedule for the Carolina Panthers. It should be noted that the NFL and the NFLPA are inching towards an agreement on a new deal. Commissioner Roger Goodell believes it will be done by the Super Bowl and some believe it could be done by the end of this calendar year. The one thing that is for certain is that it looks more and more like the NFL will be playing come time for this schedule to take effect.
While the exact dates won’t be announced until sometime in around the league meetings in the spring, we do know who the Panthers will be playing…providing the NFL doesn’t move to an 18 game schedule this year…more on that later.
The Panthers will host Arizona, San Francisco, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and the last place team from the NFC North. Currently that would be the Detroit Lions. With as bad as the Panthers have played this year and with the injury issues, the schedule looks good for the home games. Only Baltimore appears to be huge rock to get over. The other four teams have a combined winning total of 14 games. On paper, the Panthers could win 4 of those five at home.
The problem is that they also have to play Tampa, New Orleans, and Atlanta at home as well. They have a combined 29 games in the win column.
That moves us to the away schedule where they will face their division rivals as well as St. Louis, Seattle, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and the last place NFC East team, currently the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys will not be a bottom dwelling team next year and Pittsburgh is a beast, but Seattle, Cleveland, and St. Louis are teams that the Panthers can and should compete with. They have 17 wins combined.
All of this is not to say that the team won’t compete with any of them, just that record to record the Panthers are a team that with a few players here and couple less there can turn this around. If I’m looking to next season, and apparently I am, the team should find 7 winnable games on their schedule. Pull in an upset or two or become a team that could improve exponentially over this year and the Panthers may find themselves playing far deeper into the season with some meaning. I wouldn’t say “Playoffs” just yet, but if the same unexpected turns take place next year, then who knows.
Now of course all of this could change if the league goes to an 18 game schedule. In that case, and this is my logical brain making this assumption, the two games added will come only from NFC opponents outside of the division. Why? Simple, too hard to calculate tie breaking scenarios with out of conference games that don’t match up within your division.
With all teams playing one full division and one team from the other two it would make sense that each team adds one team from those other two divisions. So for example, the Panthers play the last place teams in the NFC North and the NFC East. Adding two games could put the 3rd place teams from each on the schedule as well.
Another option would be to eliminate the last place scheduled games with the North and East and simply add a full division to the lineup. So instead of facing the two last place teams they would face the entire NFC North division giving the team games against the West and the North.
It’s all subjection at this point of course because the NFL doesn’t have a labor agreement in place and no talks have really materialized on the 18 game front. One hold up is that the NFL doesn’t want to start prior to labor day because traditionally they won’t have the audience numbers, but at the same time they don’t want to change the annual Super Bowl deeper into February. This leaves little room to maneuver.
A compromise is likely as northern teams don’t want to play in hotter weather down south and southern teams don’t want to lose that advantage by having early season games held up north. Another problem is the addition of a second bye week. This will throw a third week into the mix making the NFL season 20 weeks long, not just 19. While most fans will love having those extra games, it is a logistics nightmare for the NFL who rely on computer generated formulas to schedule their games along with cross checking for MLB home games and so forth.
But for now, we can simply enjoy the fact that at least we know who the Panthers will be playing next season.